1. Kevin Durant, SF, Age: 23
Drafted second overall in 2007 after having possibly the greatest freshman season in college basketball history, Durant was named "Player of the Year" by numerous outlets. He struggled for much of his rookie season while playing a lot of shooting guard, but still easily won the Rookie of the Year Award. Since then, he's been a dynamic scorer, finishing fifth, first and first in NBA scoring the past three years, respectively.
He's also sported the second-highest PER in the league (27.00), trailing only LeBron James. He's the third best rebounding small forward; his scoring and willingness to make easy plays on offense has made OKC a top 3 offensive team. He has anchored the Thunder, which during Durant's time has evolved from a tough playoff team to a conference finalist then to the favorite to reach the Finals. He's thin but very durable and capable of taking a beating without missing a beat, as he tied for first in free throws made last season.
It would come as little surprise if Durant won multiple MVP awards and multiple NBA titles, as his team is built with an excellent blend of youth and role players with good seasons left in their tanks. Durant also set a new trend by signing his max deal for the full amount of years available. He's a terrific teammate and is as coachable a player as there is in the league. Similar to: Grant Hill
2. Derrick Rose, PG, 23 years old
Rose was drafted first overall by Chicago after helping the University of Memphis reach the NCAA 2007-08 title game. Rose struggled shooting for much of his first season, and was a horrible defender. However, he helped the Bulls into the playoffs where they lost to Boston in a dramatic seven-game series, earning him the Rookie of the Year honors. His powerful drives are impossible to defend, and his work ethic brought him to spend countless hours working on his jump shot.
He is perhaps the NBA's most intimidating guard to defend because he is both willing to shoot or drive and will always share the ball. In 2010-11, head coach Tom Thibodeau challenged him to play a more complete game. Rose complied, carrying the Bulls to the league's best record. He finished in the top 10 in PER and led point guards in minutes played, earning MVP honors. Chicago is set to compete with the Miami Heat for multiple championships, and Rose will compete with Chris Paul as the league's best point guard. Similar to: Kevin Johnson
3. Kevin Love, PF, 23 years old
Minnesota acquired Kevin Love in a draft-night trade in 2008, trading No. 3 pick O.J. Mayo for Love, Memphis' No. 5 pick. Love had a solid first year, with a PER of more than 18, but he needed to lose weight and was not at all a 3-point threat (he was just 2-of-19).
By his third year, he had slimmed down, helping him lead the league in rebounds, as well as making 88 of 211 3-point shots (41.7 percent), becoming the best rebounding/shooting combination in NBA history while winning the league's Most Improved Player award.
Today, he's among the NBA's top 5 in scoring, rebounding and PER, and is by far the Timberwolves' best player. With him as its anchor, Minnesota is poised for annual playoff appearances, and Love is a legitimate MVP candidate now and for years to come. Similar to: No one (he is a new type of power player)
4. Andrew Bynum, C, 24 years old
The Lakers drafted Bynum 10th overall in 2005, the youngest player in the draft. Bynum was incredibly raw and mechanical as a young player, so he struggled badly in his first year and was average in his second season. Since then, he's never had a PER below 20.03, and started at center for Lakers teams that ultimately went to three NBA Finals and won two titles. If not for being injury prone, Bynum would be universally known as the clear-cut second best center in the NBA and would be a perennial All-Star (and he'd also be higher on this list).
Today, he's enjoying a terrific season in all phases, and currently has his career high in rebound rate (while flirting with a career high in PER). Considering that many big men keep getting better after turning 25, Bynum still might not have reached his peak despite being in his seventh season. Amazingly, he's young enough to be considered in this group again next season; he's only a year older than Rose, Love and Durant. Similar to: Steve Stipanovich
5. Blake Griffin, PF, 22 years old
After earning numerous NCAA Player of the Year honors at Oklahoma, Griffin was the clear-cut No. 1 pick for the Clippers in 2009. He was very impressive in the Vegas Summer League, then suffered a leg injury and was forced to sit out the entire season. He returned healthy last season and showcased his astounding athletic feats. He finished the season 15th in PER -- the youngest of the top 15 -- and was named to the All-Star team. He was the Western Conference Rookie of the Month every month of the season and easily earned Rookie of the Year honors.
With Chris Paul onboard, the Clippers are primed to contend for the Western Conference title, but to do that Griffin has to improve his shot from the field and at the free throw line, as well as his awareness and overall effort on defense. If he does those things, he's a legitimate MVP candidate through 2016 and beyond. Similar to: Charles Barkley
6. Russell Westbrook, PG, 23 years old
Drafted fourth overall in 2008, Westbrook was named first team All-Rookie after a solid first season playing point guard, a position he did not play at UCLA. Westbrook has become an impact player; he is durable, missing zero games the past three straight seasons. Last season he helped the Thunder have their breakout season, and finished eighth in PER, third in steals and fifth in total[..]ists while earning second-team All-NBA honors and his first All-Star berth.
This season, he's among the NBA's top 10 in scoring while running the league's third-best offense. Though Westbrook will not likely be a league MVP (thanks to playing with Durant) he could easily win multiple Finals MVP awards as OKC is built to contend for years. Similar to: Steve Francis
7. Greg Monroe, C, 21 years old
Monroe was drafted seventh overall by Detroit in 2010, after earning third-team All-American honors at Georgetown. Monroe was seen as a slight underachiever as he entered the NBA, but within two months he began to play with purpose nightly. The results were obvious, as he finished 11th overall among the league's centers in PER (18.07), sixth in the NBA in field goal percentage, as well as grabbing the seventh most offensive rebounds in the league. This season he's improved dramatically, now ranking in the league's top 10 in PER while basically averaging a double-double. If his team was better he would be higher on this list, but it's clear that as Detroit rebuilds it will do so around Monroe in the pivot. Similar to: Alvan Adams
8. James Harden, SG, 22 years old
A first team All-American at Arizona State, Harden was selected third overall in 2009. From the moment he played his first summer league game he displayed patience and poise beyond his years, and combined those skills with solid perimeter shooting to earn second-team All-Rookie honors. Last season he evolved into a more productive player and helped OKC's second unit become one of the best in the NBA.
This season, Harden is enjoying a breakout season, ranking third in PER among shooting guards. He is a player who can devastate opponents from the field or the free throw line. Like teammate Westbrook, Harden is capable of being the most productive and efficient player in any playoff series, including the Finals, in years to come. Similar to: Rick Barry
9. Kyrie Irving, PG, 20 years old
Despite playing sparingly at Duke following an injury, Cleveland drafted Irving first overall this past June. Irving has quickly served notice he will be a force among point guards, similar to Rose and Westbrook. Powerful, quick and more skilled than either of those two players at age 20, Irving has helped lift Cleveland from the depths of the NBA to a potential playoff team this season.
He's one of the few guards in the league who can finish 60 percent of his rim shots, make 40 percent of his 3s and be a 50-percent shooter from 10-15 feet. Irving's PER is better than 22, putting him at No. 5 overall for point guards behind Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Rose and Westbrook. He's having a better rookie season than any guard on this list and better than LeBron James had in Cleveland (18.3) during his rookie year. He still can get a lot better on defense and in his overall game, suggesting multiple All-Star appearances and perhaps some league MVP potential. Similar to: Deron Williams
10. John Wall, PG, 21 years old
After one year at the University of Kentucky, Wall was the first overall pick of the 2010 draft. He excelled his first season, earning NBA All-Rookie first-team honors after averaging 16.4 points per game. He has incredible speed and is terrific in the open court. He defends, and is an excellent rebounder, currently grabbing 5.3 rebounds per game. Also one of the top playmakers in the NBA, he averaged 8.3[..]ists as a rookie. However, he is careless with the ball and is turning it over at a 4.0 per game clip this season. He is also a mediocre shooter, shooting just 40.5 percent from the field for his career. He finishes at the rim, but must improve his midrange game and deep jumper. Wall has unlimited potential, and if he improves his shooting and takes care of the basketball he should develop into an All-Star. Similar to: Jason Kidd
11. Ty Lawson, PG, 24 years old
Lawson was the 18th pick of the 2009 draft by Minnesota, which then traded him to Denver. After the Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony/Chauncey Billups to New York, Lawson became the starting point guard in Denver. His speed and aggressiveness in the open court drives the Nuggets' fast break. The Nuggets lead the NBA with 104.6 points per game and 21.7 points per game on the fast break. Lawson is extremely efficient in the pick-and-roll and penetration game. His scoring is up almost five points per game this season to 15.6 points per game and his[..]ists are up two per game to 6.3[..]ists per game. Lawson is one of the main reasons the Nuggets will be a consistent playoff contender in the Western Conference. Similar to: Terrell Brandon
12. DeJuan Blair, PF, 22 years old
The 6-foot-7, 270-pound power forward fell to the 37th pick of the 2009 draft after two seasons at Pitt because he is missing anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees, and scouts did not think he had the lift to finish at the rim. In his first game with the San Antonio Spurs, he scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, proving his skeptics wrong. Blair has brute strength and a tremendous feel for the game. He runs the court, est@blishing early position. Blair fundamentally uses angles and positioning to lock up his opponents in the paint, often finishing in the paint over taller opponents. Tremendous pickup for the Spurs. Similar to: Charles Barkley
13. DeMarcus Cousins, C, 21 years old
Cousins is a talented big man but has had off-court problems in college and in the NBA. He was the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Sacramento Kings and made the NBA All-Rookie team after scoring 14.1 points and grabbing 8.6 rebounds per game. He gets deep position in the paint and scores down low but must consistently take the ball to the basket strong. He also is an excellent passer for a big man but struggles with double-teams and needs to demonstrate more patience. Poor decisions led to a high turnover average (3.3) as a rookie. But he is a monster rebounder, currently averaging 11.2 rebounds per game, including 4.3 on the offensive glass. He lacks discipline, which causes him to foul often, averaging 4.1 fouls per game over his career. However, he is playing well this season, averaging 15.8 points and 12.3 rebounds per game while shooting 48.5 percent over the past 10 games. Similar to: Derrick Coleman
14. Stephen Curry, PG, 23 years old
Curry led the nation in scoring (28.6 ppg) during his junior year at Davidson and was picked seventh in the 2009 draft by the Golden State Warriors. Scouts knew Curry was good, but how good? At the NBA level he has been able to score effortlessly. In his rookie season he had 30 points and 10assists five times. Curry is a terrific shooter with perfect form, shooting 43.5 percent from behind the 3-point line for his career. In addition to averaging 17.9 points per game, Curry is an excellent playmaker and distributor, averaging 5.9[..]ists per game. He has the ability to create shots for himself and teammates and has emerged as a leader even as a young player. Curry works hard on the defensive end but has average athleticism and is a defensive liability. Similar to: Mark Price
15. Danilo Gallinari, SF, 23 years old
Gallinari started playing professionally in Italy at the age of 16. He was selected with the sixth pick of the 2008 draft by the New York Knicks. A big-time shooter, he was second in the NBA in 3-pointers made (186) while shooting 38 percent in his second season. After being traded to Denver he has blossomed, earning a four-year, $42 million contract extension in January. There are few young players who have Gallinari's talent and skill set. He has unlimited range on his jumper, the ability to create his own shot and the craftiness to get to the free throw line. Gallinari has gotten to the line 7.2 times per game after being traded to the Nuggets. He owns great ballhandling and passing skills for a big man and fits in perfectly with George Karl's style of play. Similar to: Hedo Turkoglu
16. Ricky Rubio, PG, 21 years old
Rubio is considered one of the best European guard prospects ever. At 14, he was the youngest player to ever play in the Spanish ACB League. Drafted by the Timberwolves with the fifth pick in 2009, he did not make his NBA debut until this season. After winning just 32 games the past two seasons the Wolves are playing well. He has a competitive nature with excellent ballhandling skills and loves the no-look pass. Rubio plays with tremendous poise for a young player. Rubio penetrates defenses, creates openings for himself and makes his teammates better. He is averaging 11.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 8.9[..]ists in 34.8 minutes per game. However, he must reduce his turnovers, of which he is averaging 3.1 per game. And his two biggest question marks are his ability to defend elite point guards and his shooting ability, currently at just 39 percent from the field. Similar to: Pete Maravich
17. Brandon Jennings, PG, 22 years old
Jennings was a highly regarded high school recruit who skipped college to play in Europe. He struggled there and fell to the 10th pick in the 2009 draft. Nonetheless, an explosive scorer, Jennings scored 55 points in a game during his rookie season. But his confidence and swagger have led to inefficient offensive play. He has struggled in his first two seasons in three areas: shooting 3-pointers consistently, getting to the free throw line and finishing at the rim. He has shot just 37 and 39 percent from the field in his first two seasons, respectively. But Jennings' game has evolved this season, and he is playing like an All-Star. His scoring numbers are up to 19.9 points per game with his shooting percentages improving to 43 percent from the field and 37 percent from the 3-point line. Similar to: Allen Iverson
18. Mike Conley Jr., PG, 24 years old
Conley played one year at Ohio State before being selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the fourth pick of the 2007 draft. He is a smooth left-handed point guard who has the athleticism, ballhandling and poise to run a team. He is a tremendous playmaker who makes others better. His shooting form is solid, but the range on his jump shot has been inconsistent. He has a tremendous work ethic and has worked hard to improve his field goal percentage and 3-point range. He received a five-year, $45 million contract extension in 2010 after getting off to the best start of his career. He finished the season with career bests in points,[..]ists, rebounding and field goal percentage. Conley was terrific in this past postseason, where he averaged 15.2 points and 6.4[..]ists per game versus Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook. Similar to: John Lucas
19. JaVale McGee, C, 24 years old
McGee was the 18th pick in the 2008 draft, going to the Washington Wizards. He is a gifted athlete, with a tremendous vertical jump and a 7-6 wingspan. McGee can finish at the rim, handle the ball and block shots. Unfortunately, he does not have a reliable offensive game: no post-up game and no 12- to 15-foot jumper. Everything he does offensively is off an offensive rebound or a lob off penetration. However, McGee is a big-time rim protector. Averaged 2.4 blocks last season and is at 3.0 blocks per game this season. He is a poor one-on-one defender. Undisciplined and often out of position, he picks up a ton of cheap fouls. McGee has the talent to develop into a 15-point, 10-rebound and 3-block per game player if he matures. Similar to: Theo Ratliff
20. Serge Ibaka, PF, 22 years old
The 24th pick of the 2008 draft, Ibaka has tremendous raw talent. His length, quickness and jumping ability allow him to defend, rebound and be a high-level shot-blocker. He has averaged 2.0 blocks per game over his career. He is excellent defending the pick-and-roll but struggles to defend the powerful post players and stretch 4s. Ibaka is a big-time offensive rebounder, runs the court effortlessly for a big man and can finish around the basket. However, he has no one-on-one game in the post and needs to develop footwork and confidence. He struggles to get post position, often getting pushed off the box. But having teammate Kendrick Perkins as a mentor will help, and Ibaka can help bolster the defensive backbone for this young, championship-driven team. Similar to: Dikembe Mutombo
21. Nicolas Batum, SF, 23 years old
Batum was one of the most talented young players in Europe from 2005 to 2008. Portland acquired his rights in 2008, and he moved into the starting lineup during the fourth game of the 2008-09 season. Batum has tremendous length and a unique skill set. He is a very good two-way player with defense being his forte. He is an excellent wing defender who can defend multiple positions. His scoring has increased every year in the league going from 5.4 points per game as a rookie to 12.4 points per game last season. He also loves the 3-pointer, as he attempted 807 field goals last season, and 342 of them were from behind the 3-point line, where has shot 37.4 percent for his career. Batum is very good at scoring off cuts and coming off screens. The Blazers would love for him to develop more of an attack mentality. Similar to: Bruce Bowen
22. Thaddeus Young, PF, 23 years old
Despite not having a truly defined position, Young makes the most of his playing time coming off the bench, enabling his team to enjoy a huge advantage with their second unit. He's a terrific finisher, attacks the rim and plays within his talent level, rather than launching too many shots or drives that would likely end poorly. Similar to: Antawn Jamison
23. Tyreke Evans, PG, 22 years old
Evans is, by far, the toughest guy to evaluate going forward, based on what he's done so far. He regressed badly in his second season. He has played better this year but is not even back at his rookie levels. Bottom line: as a point guard he ranks 50th in[..]ist rate and as a shooting guard he ranks 46th in true shooting percentage, so he still does not have a position. Telling statistic: The Kings are 40-107 in games he has played since Jan. 1 of his rookie season. Similar to: A blend of Larry Hughes and Allen Iverson.
24. Jrue Holiday, PG, 21 years old
Holiday has not made any big jumps forward, but he's a key starter on a very likely playoff team. His team is far worse when he's not in the game. He has the talent to be a much better defender and finisher at the rim, but he's already a dynamite perimeter shooter and a willing ball mover. Similar to: Danny Ainge
25. Brook Lopez, C, 23 years old
Before his foot injury, Lopez had hit a wall developmentally. He wakes up every day as a very good player, but has much more potential left to tap. He needs to take better shots, think the game more and be a monster on the glass. He's improved on all of these but looked like he was going to master them as a rookie. Similar to: Joe Barry Carroll